Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cozy Science Fiction Part 3 - Point of View by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Cozy Science Fiction
Part 3
Point of View
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

In Part 1, we challenged Brian Aldiss's definition of Cozy Catastrophe Science Fiction

In Part 2, we attempted to provide easy, objective ways to identify Style and Voice

Now, in Part 3 we return to Brian Aldiss's definition and agree with it a little bit.

For the most part, Romance Genre tends to avoid catastrophe of the planetary kind.  Of course, today, we have Global Warming to figure into any novel set in the next century or so.  And NASA is using the threat of giant asteroids striking Earth to bring awareness of their space program's importance (which I think is even more important than that).  Meanwhile, we also hear about Earthquakes and Super Volcanoes (California's "Big One" seems more likely every day.)  And all of this ignores the prospects of a global war rooted in religion or political power struggles.

So there are plenty of catastrophe scenarios dangling over our heads -- yet Romance abounds.

Science Fiction often deals with a collapse of civilization due to catastrophe -- in the 1950's, science fiction focused on destruction of Earth by atomic bomb.  That threat is back again.

So how do you write Science Fiction Romance without embedding your characters in so much catastrophe that they appear stupid if they ignore the world because they're suddenly in love?

As I pointed out in the previous two posts in this Cozy Science Fiction series, Gini Koch has answered this question with an ever escalating galactic invasion of Earth and Earth as a political football in some game being played by her version of E. E. Smith's Arisians.  Gini Koch's characters find love, fulfillment, and produce children while defending Earth very effectively.

This is a formula worked out in Hollywood during the popularity of World War II movies, and we've seen it used in Viet Nam War movies -- the TV Series M.A.S.H. had plenty of "cozy" relationships among the medical team where it was not even Romantic Love but sincere friendship.

Brian Aldiss observed of British science fiction - in the recent aftermath of World War II which pounded England to rubble in spots - that the tendency was to write about characters who were more aware of each other than they were of the collapse of civilization around them.

We've seen this in many U.S.A. writer's takes on how things would go here after a total collapse of services.  You either tell a tale of striving to survive or a tale of Love Conquers All - can't do both.

Now, why is that?

Maybe if you add Romance to Science Fiction, telling the tale of catastrophe conquered by Love is just exactly what Cozy Science Fiction is best at?

If you want to tell the tale of the catastrophe, you generally have to use many points of view.  The "hero" or "protagonist" is the catastrophe or the response of civilization to that catastrophe (politics may enter into it, as well as the Media.)

When you divide your 100,000 words of novel space into a plethora of points of view, you lose the space needed to reveal the internal psychology of a Character that makes them prone to derive this (or that) lesson from the Events of the Plot.

In other words, even though each point of view character has a story - the plot becomes so overwhelming that you have no space to tell the story inside the most interesting character.  In fact, you have to space to convince the reader that the character is interesting.

So if the Catastrophe and its consequences to Humanity is your Protagonist or Antagonist, you don't have space to reveal enough story to make the Plot convincing.  In other words, "cozy" requires a lot more wordage than "action."

If the Protagonist is "saving the world" - their attention is wholly on the gigantic, overwhelming threat, not on the inside of their own minds and feelings, which is where Story resides.  In other words, the novel is all plot and the story is left to the reader's imagination.  War stories and Action fiction require that structure.

Today's modern science fiction trends are starting to include Love Stories, and in some cases, Romance.

Here are some examples of Action Science Fiction, written by men for men, which include Love Story -- and a hint of Romance -- and thus show us the direction in which Cozy Science Fiction (with or without catastrophe) might yet take.  These novels are not, in any way, shape or form "Cozy" -- but they illustrate how point of view can be used to create Cozy Science Fiction that can sell to the mass market.

Mike Shepherd's series I've reviewed here is still broadening a story of Galactic War And Politics -- even Invasion By Alien Species included.

Here's #14 in the Kris Longknife series, BOLD:


This series is so popular, it has a spinnoff about one of the minor antagonists of the Kris Longknife series -- Vicky Peterwald (a princess kid just growing up learning to run a galactic empire).


 In both these novel series set in the same galactic-war universe, the protagonist and main point of view character is female, in charge of things, makes decisions that impel other Characters to do things and people to die, lives to regret and learn.  In both cases, this Protagonist Character is focused on the external Catastrophe, but does not ignore or neglect their love life and all the emotionally maturing lessons gained from it.

Note that this plot/story trick is possible only in a long series of long novels -- pay attention to how long the novels in Gini Koch's ALIEN series are, and compare to the more ordinary length of the Kris Longknife and Vicky Peterwald series novels.  The amount of "action" (fighting, space fleets maneuvering, politics) in Kris and Vicky's lives is emphasized more than the battle sequences in Gini Koch's novels.

One way to tie Characters to the Catastrophe (which they cause or avert or just suffer and survive) and still incorporate a cozy romance is to have a vast canvass and a lot of words is to feed the deciding Characters information from various farflung sources such as a spy network, a turncoat, hackers listening in to enemy communications, and the Media.

The Vast Canvass produces a lot of information during a catastrophe - as well as disinformation and just plain noise.  The writing techniques needed to keep this information stream both realistic and entertaining to the reader are the same techniques used in Mystery Genre -- Detective Fiction, Police Procedural, lucky amateur detective, and any Mystery subgenre.  It is a combination of active searching by the Protagonist and accidental discovery or incoming Media items where significance lies in the other information the Protagonist has.

If some of that incoming information shades, textures, explains or reveals details about the Romantic Interest, (maybe some embarrassing secrets, too), and if the Romantic Interest is involved in generating or averting the Catastrophe, you have a Love Conquers All novel in the making.

SAVE THE CAT! (the screenwriting book I keep referring you for clues about novel structure) warns us, "Keep The Press Out Of It."

But to tell a tale of catastrophe on a galactic size canvass, you need incoming information on developments far-far-away.  The main characters, Protagonist, Antagonist, Romantic Interest, will be choosing actions based on media reports that hear (or somehow do not hear, or get on their phone-alerts).

Writing contemporary or near-future settings today requires at least some of your characters to have the ALERTS enabled so they will be informed of local impending catastrophe (such as tornado, flood from a broken dam, etc.)

But to get those alerts, you need "location services" enabled so the alert knows where you are and gives you specific warnings.  Many techs advise against enabling location services (for good reasons!), so you may have some characters who get alerts and others who do not.

What a Character does (plot) depends a lot on what they know or don't know.  One major suspense technique using the "tight point of view" of just one character and what that character knows or does not know, is to let the reader know things their favorite protagonist does not know.  If you tease the information into the story at the right pace, the reader will be rooting for their Protagonist to find out the bit of information.

If the information is something that affects 'the public' -- such as "The Dam Broke! Run For High Ground!" or "There was a fatal 50 car pileup on I-5 half an hour ago just north of the Grapevine."  And the reader knows that the protagonist does not know that the romantic interest character was in that pileup.  "Location Services."

News media or social media, flash-mob, or opportunity to make $50 by carrying a protest sign in some march before media cameras, is information that a Character would use to determine an action.  All of this information may come to your single-point-of-view Protagonist via professional media sources (the New York Times) or via social media (Breaking News App, Snapchat).

So if the world starts falling apart around your Character's head, what does the Character do?  Check phone, Tweet?  Dash to the rescue of his brand new Romantic Interest?  Or maybe his ex-wife and kid?

Catastrophe and Romance seem utterly immiscible until you add Science Fiction.

Science Fiction is a kind of fiction-surfactant, a foaming, slippery soap that causes oil and water to mix easily.

This is also true of Paranormal, Fantasy, and all the sub-genres of science fiction.  With or without a catastrophe, the science fiction genres are all amenable to the "Cozy" treatment.

Here are two novels by Elise Hyatt


in Mass Market paperback from Berkley Prime Crime Mystery

-- which I reviewed here:


Elise Hyatt is a pen name -- when you adopt a distinctive "Styel or Voice" that is appropriate to one genre but not another - you need a pen name specific to that genre.

There are 3 novels in this series so far.  They illustrate how ugly, strange, twisted murder events can fit neatly, smoothly, warmly into a Cozy Mystery.

The style and voice are Cozy -- the world the protagonist is embedded in is challenging.  Other characters are inside the cozy warmth -- the nasty Events are outside.

The entire trick of taking an ugly, violent, sick-minded world and embedding a nice, clean, optimistic and bright Character into that world, producing a Cozy effect lies in how POINT OF VIEW is handled.

Point of View is one of the component elements in "Voice and Style" -- just as the worldbuilding is.

In our everyday reality, we can view our catastrophe-threatened world from one point of view or another.  Each point of view creates a different sort of atmosphere or impact, significance and meaning of the catastrophe.

Consider Star Trek's various Captains, but particularly Captain Kirk -- right in the midst of all plans going awry, of immense stakes in a game of pure chance, Kirk's attitude was bright, optimistic, zestful, even happy.  Jokes flew thicker in midst of disaster than at any other time.  That is not unrealistic.  It is how winners behave under pressure.

Kirk's point of view showed us a world that, though fraught with threats, was actually "Cozy."  Of course, he never really "got the girl" so broadcast Trek didn't qualify as Romance -- but it did spawn vast amounts of genuine Romance genre fanfic where Kirk, Spock and everyone else got a cozy love life.

To achieve the tight point of view that allows for Cozy stories, you set your 'camera' of the mind on the shoulder of a Character who sees opportunity where others see catastrophe.

It is that simple.  The single point of view narrative gives the most possible power to the "Cozy" dimension, sharing with the Reader a warm, smooth, easy, no-need-for-emotional-defenses approach to life, the universe and everything.

Take a huge, ugly threatening tsunami of Events destroying civilization, put a Character into that world who see, understands, comprehends, and fully credit's the destruction with all its due fear and awe, and tell the whole story through that single Character's eyes -- very tight point of view, not one single comment straying from it, -- and tell that story as a Cozy Science Fiction story.

Make the reader scared of the Events -- and assured of the Love Conquers All outcome.

If you can pull that Cozy effect off, you can motivate readers to approach their real life with more optimism, assurance, and even joy.  That kind of attitude toward handling grim realities attracts True Love.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. In Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS, the protagonist and heroine fall in love while saving the world from an alien invasion. Moreover, she's not a superfluous character brought in to give the hero a love interest; her buried memories of childhood trauma when her colony was wiped out by the aliens are the key to defeating the invasion.

  2. In Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS, the protagonist and heroine fall in love while saving the world from an alien invasion. Moreover, she's not a superfluous character brought in to give the hero a love interest; her buried memories of childhood trauma when her colony was wiped out by the aliens are the key to defeating the invasion.

  3. Margaret: Absolutely right, and that's the reason Heinlein was such an outstanding writer in his day -- few men were able to think about women being the key to everything.

  4. Also in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, for another good example. The heroine with whom the narrator falls in love is an "action girl" who plays an essential role in the revolution yet also has typical (and realistic) "female" concerns relating to marriage and children.

    I have no idea why my comment show up twice. Sorry. I didn't do anything unusual in posting it that I know of.

  5. Agreed, Heinlein did that a lot when it was not popular and got away with it. And yes that double posting is a mystery!